Peel the Wallpaper or replace the walls

11 Replies

My partner and I are working on rehabbing a 120 year old property.  The walls throughout the house are painted over top of several layers of wallpaper.  Although it probably didn't look bad when it was first done, the walls now have a lot of boils and the paint job looks crappy.  We are getting a quote from a drywall expert who can peel the paper and mud over the bare walls.  We are expecting this come back outrageously high.  That leaves us two real options in my mind.  Spend several days/weeks peeling the paper and refinishing and painting the walls ourselves OR demoing all the walls and rehanging new drywall altogether.  I'm just wondering if anyone has run into a similar situation and could describe the pros and cons of doing it either of these ways.  Thanks!

You can always just hang 1/4” Sheetrock over it, with minor adjustments.

It is first decided by what is underneath and what you need to do in the wall cavity. If it is just cosmetic rehab you can strip the wallpaper. If wallpaper is over rough plaster you will need to plaster smooth or sheetrock/tape. However if you have a lot of electric and insulating you might be better off taking it to the studs at least for exterior walls. Lathe and plaster demo is labor intensive but anyone can do it. It does make some in wall work easier. Plastering I have had done in an older building and it can get pricey. i dont reccommend doing it yourself and painting wallpaper just looks bad.

Sheetrock is messy, but plaster/lathe/wallpaper is messier.  

For interior walls with no need to remove things like knob&tube, I'd got with 1/4" sheetrock as long as the walls are relatively straight and smooth and the imperfections won't telegraph through.  

If knob and tube, need to do soundproofing or if exterior walls need insulation, I'd go remove all down to the studs and start fresh.   

If you have the skill and patience to remove the wall paper go for it, Just a suggestion while the paper is dry, remove the outer layer, then soak the backing. YOU most almost always will need to refinish the drywall by skim coating. Skim coating is a skill. If you decide to remove it, be extremely careful with the scraper, allow the chemical or just water depending on whats on the wall to do its job and soak in. If its in the budget peel the paper and slap 1/4 drywall up, pull the electrical boxes out a bit find a good taper to come in and tape and your ready for paint. Ive done a lot of wall paper removal, which ever way you go is all dependent on time frame knowledge and budget. I just remolded a house in palm beach Florida for a friend, the walls had the original wall paper from the early 90's on every wall including the bathroom ceilings, well let me tell you, I wish I had just slapped 1/4 on the walls, we wound up skim coating the entire house. not fun Best of luck

Michael Gessner, Contractor

Also to add, if your capable of doing the demo of the walls and hanging drywall go for it, just find your self a good tapper, taping is a skill. Just keep in mind if you demo the walls and they're original plaster you could be opening up a whole can of worms. Get two reputable drywall contractors in who know drywall and plaster get a feel for what they have to say then go from there

Michael Gessner, Contractor

Sorry forgot one more thing lol, if the walls are bubbling and maybe flaking, the house is 120 yrs old, theirs a good chance yo have led paint on them 

Michael Gessner, Contractor

@Greggory Kowalkowski I had this same exact scenario in one of my units...property is from 1880.

We did the old fashioned method in 75% of the unit which was spraying chemicals and scraping down to the horse hair plaster. From there we mudded the walls and painted over. This cost very minimal amounts of money however the man power that went into it was very high.

The other 25% of the unit I paid someone to go over the existing walls with 1/4" dry wall as mentioned above...it was very costly (especially compared to spray/peel/scrape method) but it was no headache for me and all I had to do was prime and paint over it.

If you can do the drywall yourself then definitely go that route...if you are not confident then I would at least attempt the spray/peel/scrape method to see what you can get done. If all else fails and you have it in the budget...pay for it.

Good luck!

I have been doing drywall for a long time.  I don't feel that hanging sheetrock over top or demoing to studs and then finishing could ever be cheaper than stripping wallpaper and coating what you end up with.  I would definitely do a test wall to see what you're in for.  I could be wrong I guess.  Good luck

The other reasons to drywall over instead of tearing down is if you tear down the walls of a 120 year old home, you will likely have to deal with lead based paint issues too. And then your costs are really going up.  If you drywall over, then you are technically not disturbing it so you can just use regular contractors.

In addition to that, if you remove the existing walls, you will likely have a code enforcer there telling you that you have to update everything to code as soon as you take down those walls.

Now you're talking new electric, and possibly some plumbing as they likely haven't vented much if anything previously.

With a 120 yr old house I would see this as an opportunity. Take it down to the studs. Update and/or add any electrical as you would see fit. If any of the walls are exterior, change the insulation and upgrade the Rvalue. 

Take pictures of the process. This is a selling feature to the unit. It shows clients you want to create a great home environment and that you're using quality products. You can validate the rent your charging and as you increase the quality of the unit you also will increase the demand from prospective clients.

Higher up front costs but much better quality look and feel of the unit.

Use fabric softner and rent clothing steamer, I have found those to be best for wall paper. The big issue is depending on the adhesive of some wall paper applications you may end up ripping the paper layer off the drywall and then you've got a boat load of patch work to do

Lower costs but just as messy as a demo and takes almost the same amount of time.

3rd option is to cover the walls.

You can get wall panels from 3/16 thick and just put them up over top and hide all that's underneath. 

Can be done VERY fast and is also the CHEAPEST but it will also be done cheap.

I know which option I would go for, but you have to make the best decision based on the needs of your unit and clientele.  

Wish you luck

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